REVIEW / Tourists, travellers and foreign minefields

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The Independent Culture
FROM THE engineered jollity of a Disney theme park, Jill Dando welcomed you to Holiday (BBC 1) in Orlando on Tuesday night. 'We put together a beginner's guide,' she said cheerily, 'so you can get it right first time.' Point One: Don't get shot, you might have thought, but Holiday isn't in the business of raining on anyone's parade and their rather bland safety advice ('Don't stop for strangers') was tucked away after the theme park pitch.

They enlisted Mickey Mouse to count off their tips on the fingers of one hand - four in the case of the digitally challenged rodent. I'm not sure that Mickey's minders would have quite approved of tip three - eat outside the park because food is expensive inside - but they probably calculated that the glowing vox pops from British holidaymakers more than made up for that momentary lapse into bad manners.

As Dando's opening remarks implied, Holiday takes the view that an excursion abroad is a test of your nerve, a minefield of social and financial embarrassment. This came to a head last week when they ran a small item on a family going for their first foreign holiday, a piece that may have been included on the principle that the presence of someone more nervous than you are yourself can have a strangely calming effect. Watching these people go rigid as the plane lifted off, even the least daring tourist would have felt like Indiana Jones.

The theme park segment brought home another truth. For Holiday, the world would be a better place if it were run by Disney - reliable hygiene, clearly marked prices and a set of attractions to be 'done'. Just down the road from the Disney enclaves, somebody has done just this. Buy a ticket to Splendid China and you get a miniature and manicured version of an entire nation, complete with a knee-high Great Wall and concrete mountains. Funny, isn't it? You visit China and within an hour you're ready for another country.

Black New York would only be likely to feature in Holiday as a place you should avoid, but on Travelog (C 4) it was the destination. This is a series that aims itself at people who think of themselves as travellers rather than tourists, people for whom the unpredictable is the point of going abroad rather than its principal drawback. I suspect it has been poked into being by the strength of BBC 2's Rough Guide programmes, which continue to demonstrate a lively curiosity about the countries they visit rather than niggling about the exchange-rate and the best prices for espadrilles (in fact Sankha Guha, one of the Rough Guide's best presenters, has transferred to Holiday, though early signs are that they're affecting him more than he's affecting them).

Brenda Emmanus's brisk exploration of the varieties of black life in New York was certainly refreshing in terms of subject matter - before this you had to rely on Spike Lee movies or drug documentaries to see certain areas of Brooklyn on screen - but it edged a little close to travel-show cliches here and there. The narration was sprightly, occasionally glib, snacking on neighbourhoods and moving on. What you saw was worth more than that - the presence of a politically confident and, in places, decidedly prosperous community.

You wouldn't hear the word 'symbiosis' on Holiday either, I suspect, unless it happened to be the name of a Greek disco. It did occur in Travelog's other item, uttered from horseback by Alan Coren in the New Forest. Coren isn't great on a horse but he's very good on television; wry and relaxed and giving the impression that he thinks it's all a bit of a chuckle. This was more of a writer's piece, a little compendium of local history and neat observation. Coren relished the forest's archaic language and regulations - the Verdurers' Court and the Agister, who looks after commoners' rights - but he didn't get so caught up in archaic curiosity that he missed the odd tawdriness. His piece to camera about the twee, pixified gift shops, which ended in a pan down to a crapping china gnome, was refreshingly sour for a genre that too often looks the other way.

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